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I’ve never made a full-sized, functional prototype before. Until now.

Some woodworkers always make a full prototype of new designs before tackling the “real” project, but I never have. Oh, sure, for some past projects I’ve created cardboard prototypes of furniture and other things, miniature mockups of what I want to build, and the occasional full-size wooden component to tweak its shape or whatever. But I’m more likely to just start the real project and design-as-I-go.

But for a current rolling task light for a magazine article, I needed to find not only the optimal working dimensions, but test and tweak a couple articulating joints. I could only do that with a life-sized prototype.

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Doing this, I discovered a few important things. First, there’s no way I could have gotten the articulation or size just right without doing the prototype. Yeah, a cardboard one would have partly accomplished this, but it wouldn’t have given me the opportunity to test things like balance and center-of-gravity for the final project. And being able to put the full-size prototype in various positions and locations, I quickly realized some dimensions need reworking – the upper articulated arm is too long, for example, so I still have work to do.

Finally, making the prototype was a lot of fun. There’s a certain freedom in being able to re-cut, re-attach and re-configure things on a model that’s as close as you can get to the real thing with no worry of ruining anything. (Which can happen with my design-as-I-go approach.) It’s all made of scrap so I could cut it, mark on it, do anything I wanted to it. No need to even attach the wheels; small blocks of the same height are fine for testing.

Wish I’d learned all this years ago, but I’m glad I have now. I can guarantee I’ll be doing this more frequently from now on.

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